The latest anthology in the Regency Romantics series is now published, containing six wonderful romances from myself and five fellow authors. My contribution to this edition is a brand new Regency romance, but I confess it is based on a very familiar theme.
Is there anyone who doesn't like the story of Cinderella? It is certainly one of my favourite fairy tales and a re-working seemed perfect for this winter collection. Waldo, Duke of Charingden is reluctant to marry so his family decide they will bring a selection of eligible ladies to the winter ball for him to choose from. Of course, nothing goes to plan, and Waldo becomes entangled with the very ineligible young woman staying at Dove Cottage. Here is a short excerpt for you. I hope you enjoy it!
Waldo has just stepped out of his drawing room for a breath of air....
'Do not run away,' he ordered, when she turned to flee. He ran lightly down the steps and as he approached she slowly turned back towards him.
'I beg your pardon, I meant no harm,' she said breathlessly.
'Who are you?' he asked her. 'And tell me the truth this time. I mean no disrespect to the Goodliffes but I doubt any relative of theirs ever learned to dance like that.'
He watched as she caught her full bottom lip between her teeth.
'You are right, sir, I was given a good schooling, but I am an orphan, and my circumstances are now such that I am forced to throw myself upon the Misses Goodliffes' generosity. Miss Harriet was my nurse, you see, and I knew she would not turn me away. However, to avoid any awkward explanations I decided to remain here as their niece.'
'And not content with frightening my horse I find you spying upon my guests,' he said. 'You have no permission to collect sticks from here.''No.' She hung her head. 'Your housekeeper sent over the remains of a game pie for our dinner and I promised Miss Hannah that I would return the dish. The snow and the moon made it light as day, so I thought I would bring it back tonight, rather than wait for the morning. Then I heard the music.' She glanced up at him. 'I love to dance,' she said simply. 'It is the one thing I have missed most since I came to Dove Cottage. I did not think you would mind if I just watched, through the window. But then, I just could not stop myself from dancing, too.'
She was looking so wistful that he came to a decision.
He took her hand and she said in some alarm, 'What are you doing?'
'If you want to dance, you shall come inside and join us.'
'No, no, I cannot.' She dug in her heels and held back. 'Pray, your Grace, let me go.'
'But why? There is time for you to join in with one dance, at least.'
'No, no, I pray you, sir, do not humiliate me so!'
The anguished note in her voice made him stop.
'I have no wish to upset you,' he said gently.
'I should never have come here. Oh, your Grace, I beg your pardon.'
'Very well, I shall not force you to come indoors if you do not wish it.' Looking down into her face, pale and beautiful in the moonlight, a madness came over Waldo. 'But since you are here it is a pity to waste the music.' He pulled her closer. 'We shall tread a measure here, on the lawn.'
Distress was replaced by suspicion and a sudden contraction of her brows.
'Now you are making a May-game of me.'
Not at all. I am deadly serious. Well?' He smiled, at his most charming. 'Listen, another dance is starting. A waltz.' He took her hands. 'Come along, Clara, dance with me.'
'This is ridiculous.'
He was smiling down at her and Clara found it impossible to look away. His warm, strong fingers were wrapped around her hands and when he moved she followed him, dancing to the faint, sweet strains of the pianoforte that drifted out on the still night air. He led her through the dance, moving with a lithe grace as they glided across the lawn while the full moon hung like a silver lamp in the night sky. Clara forgot that she was wearing a red flannel petticoat beneath her old dimity gown, forgot the outdoor boots on her feet and the woollen cloak around her shoulders. She felt like a princess, dressed in the finest silks, skipping and twirling around the ballroom. The duke was still smiling and she found herself smiling too, laughing aloud as the joy of the music swelled within her. He lifted her hands high for the final rotation but at that moment a dip in the lawn caught Clara unawares. She stumbled and would have fallen if the duke had not caught her in his arms and pulled her against the hard wall of his chest.
She laughed up at him, breathing in the mixture of crisp, cold air, freshly laundered linen and a spicy rich scent. Then the glow in his eyes deepened and she could not breathe at all. She felt hot, giddy. Her heart was beating so hard she felt sure he must hear it. When he lowered his head she did not draw back, instead she turned her face up to meet him, her lips slightly parted. His kiss was soft, gentle as a breeze, but it sent a bolt of excitement zinging through to her core and she found herself reaching up, pushing up on her toes to prolong the moment.
When he ended the kiss and raised his head, she felt bereft. He was gazing down at her, a faint, puzzled frown creasing his brow and suddenly the chill night air rushed in, bringing her back to the reality of her situation. The duke was clearly ashamed of what he had done, disgusted with himself for kissing someone he saw as little better than a servant. And she had kissed him back! No respectable young lady would ever do such a thing. Tears were threatening. She must leave, before she made even more of a fool of herself.
She stepped away from him.
'Oh, I beg your pardon.'
Her anguished whisper hung on the night air.
'Clara, I – '
As he reached out for her she whisked herself out of reach, turned and fled.
Candlelight Courtships is available now for you to enjoy from Amazon, with six spell-binding romances from Elizabeth Bailey, Monica Fairview, Amanda Grange, Fenella J Miller, Wendy Soliman and Melinda Hammond!